A poll reported in the Washington Post on September 23 offers positive news for those troubled by the movement to legalize marijuana. It also does not auger well for those pushing more states to follow Colorado and Washington, where legalization is already underway.
In a national poll, support for legal marijuana fell seven percentage points in a single year, from 51 percent in 2013 to 44 percent in 2014. The results are well outside the poll’s margin of sampling error, and though only a single result, represent the first sign that the public may be reconsidering what had been climbing enthusiasm.
Of course, public support for issues in the abstract (such as nationalized health care, or ending involvement in Middle Eastern wars) can change when actual events begin to shape perceptions. It is possible that deteriorating public health and public safety conditions in places like Colorado are giving pause.
The public has to be made aware of the actual damage, however, which is no easy task given the widespread presence of media bias on behalf of legal marijuana, both explicitly (the New York Times’s editorial support for legalization) or more implicitly through a steadfast neglect of bad news in reportage (the Washington Post on any given day).
Yet word has gotten out, and credit is due the various groups and individuals (educators, physicians, and family advocates, as well as a small core of policy analysts) who have created a growing source of data and genuine analysis.
But the uphill struggle is not over. For instance, though the Post did cover the poll results, their story contained this striking effort at spin: the results “could mean that Americans generally don't like the news coming out of Colorado and Washington—even if that news has been largely positive.”
Really? The referenced “news”—a Brookings study, the headline of which is, “Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana is Succeeding”—can only be regarded, charitably, as a weak reed. Sure enough, media coverage followed suit (“Colorado Legalization is Working, says Brookings Institute,” San Francisco Gate, July 31, 2014). Does that mean things are going fine?
Not exactly. What the Brookings report actually argues is that the state has met “the most basic standard of success” because it has “created regulatory and administrative apparatuses that facilitate the legal retail marijuana market.” Is the mere fact that Colorado now has businesses selling marijuana a serious standard of success?
It is revealing that in order to reference the positive Brookings report, the Post had to climb over a mound of data about the actual impact on the ground in Colorado. A High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) report in August detailed a parade of damage across the spectrum. And last week’s Quest Workplace Drug Testing national results showed for the first time in a decade an increase in marijuana positives nationally—5 percent overall in a single year—compared with Colorado’s 20 percent increase over that same period. That can’t be a success for businesses, can it?
Showing even more evasion, the Post did decide to report on the impact of legalized marijuana—in Alaska, based on a ruling from 39 years ago—“Alaska Legalized Weed 39 Years Ago. Wait, What?” (September 25, 2014).
The piece attempts to draw implications for the current Colorado “experiment.” In Alaska, we are told, the lesson is, “the sky hasn’t fallen.” Never mind the striking differences between the two states. Alaska “legalized” marijuana in 1975, but not through a voter referendum. Rather, a court ruling held that a provision of the state’s constitution concerning privacy extended to personal possession of marijuana. Voters explicitly overturned this result in 1991, but a successful ACLU suit kept the judges’ ruling largely intact, though a legalization measure on the ballet in 2000 was beaten by 60 percent of the vote.
In reality, not only is the judge’s ruling against federal Controlled Substance law, it is also a continued violation of state law (a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $50,000) to have more than 25 marijuana plants or more than 4 ounces of pot. And in Alaska it has never been permissible to have commercial growing, sales, or even a commercial building providing pot; homegrown personal amounts only.